How is the year nearly over? I couldn’t grasp it, and neither could the cashiers at Trader Joe’s, as we discussed our sadness over the sudden but solely seasonal discontinuation of my favorite fall Trader Joe’s product: the Pumpkin Joe-Joe’s. A fall spin-off of Trader Joe’s beloved Oreo knock-off, the Pumpkin Joe-Joe’s feature a lightly spiced cookie and the perfect ratio of pumpkin cream. But I guess there’s no use in describing them now that they’re off the shelves until next September…
We tried to comfort each other over this loss by discussing the winter seasonal items in my cart. In the name of food journalism, I bought every late fall and winter-themed snack and dessert item that intrigued me during a recent November shopping trip. Honestly, I sort of blacked out and let my sweet tooth take over during this shopping trip. I wasn’t looking to see if Trader Joe’s had perfected store-bought cranberry sauce or boxed stuffing — I see these as the more banal of the seasonal items — or if the grocery store had the best eggnog for your upcoming holiday parties — sorry, but I despise nothing more in the culinary world than this off-putting, boozy concoction. Biases aside, I selected a wide variety of foods to review; that is, some cookies, some frozen treats, some candies and some fun beverages.
During my conversation with the extremely friendly Trader Joe’s cashiers, I got the lowdown on this year’s holiday items, starting with the Thanksgiving Stuffing Seasoned Kettle Chips, which the cashier noted to be a crowd favorite, with some customers buying bags in bulk every year. I was nervous to try these as I tried the chips’ distant cousin, the Thanksgiving Stuffing Seasoned Popcorn, and was faced head-on with the overwhelming flavor of crushed black pepper, garlic powder and nothing else. The chips are arguably better than the popcorn, with a similar garlicky flavor, but one that feels less aggressive and pleasant to eat. Serve these chips with a creamy dip, perhaps the Trader Joe’s Vegan Caramelized Onion Dip, as the ultimate savory snack combination.
I was hoping to find a holiday-flavored, fun beverage and stumbled upon a few different options: a new Winter Sangria sparkling water flavor, a few non-alcoholic spritzers and a new coffee creamer. Trader Joe’s sparkling water is never anything special so I kept my expectations for Winter Sangria low. I love how the grocery store’s approach to translating an alcoholic beverage into a sparkling water flavor was to solely emphasize the main fruit used in the aforementioned alcoholic beverage: grapes. If you concentrate hard enough while you sip, you can somewhat taste, or trick yourself into tasting, hints of citrus. Other canned drinks I tried included the Sparkling Honeycrisp Apple Juice Beverage and Something Spritzy, a sparkling drink with citrus, cranberry and aromatic bitters. Upon first sip, the taste of Something Spritzy somewhat reminded me of a Mrs. Meyers holiday-scented hand soap but after a second sip, I picked up on the delightful blend of grapefruit and cranberry flavors. I also enjoyed the Sparkling Honeycrisp Apple Juice Beverage, especially considering that it could serve as a great non-alcoholic beverage option in place of champagne for holiday parties.
The Non-Dairy Cinnamon Bun Oat Creamer was the highlight of this year’s Trader Joe’s holiday beverage selection. An iteration of their Non-Dairy Brown Sugar Oat Creamer, one of my favorite items since its launch in 2022, the Cinnamon Bun creamer truly tastes like cinnamon rather than just straight-up sugar. Try adding a splash to your daily coffee, chai or, if you want to get crazy, use it in place of heavy cream in a White Russian cocktail.
A Trader Joe’s review would not be complete without mentioning their array of sweet treats. In November, the store still carries some items with the flavors of fall (maple, pumpkin, spices) while also introducing iterations of classic winter holiday treats. I had trouble finding self-control in my selection of dessert items during this shopping trip, but the Pumpkin Spice Madeleine Cookie Sandwiches, Maple Leaf Cookies, Candy Cane Chocolate Covered Almonds and Iced Gingerbread Squares caught my attention and felt the most inventive. The Madeleine cookies were pumpkin-y and quite delicious. Do they compare to my beloved Pumpkin Joe-Joe’s? No, but they’re a solid placeholder. Another sandwich cookie, the Maple Leaf Cookies feature a delicious, generous serving of maple-flavored crème filling sandwiched between each cookie. The candy cane almonds lacked chocolate flavors but the hints of peppermint were present and it gave an unexpected twist on chocolate-covered nuts.
I was most excited for the Iced Gingerbread Squares, as gingerbread is the epitome of winter desserts. The package contains six squares of fluffy, spiced gingerbread elevated with sugary icing and sprinkles. Thaw the gingerbread squares at room temperature or heat them up in the microwave for a few seconds so the icing can warm up. I could see this handheld, pre-portioned dessert being a huge hit at a potluck or winter gathering in place of the holiday sugar cookies that everyone will most likely bring.
During these final weeks of the year, it’s easy to fall into the habit of eating the same foods that you’ve grown accustomed to eating in prior months. However, that gets boring and predictable after a while. Whether you’re a dedicated Trader Joe’s customer who finds joy in trying their latest creations or just enjoy the foods traditionally eaten around the holidays, I hope this guide gives you a few ideas on how to incorporate some new items and flavors into your rotation.
A version of this article appeared on p. 7 of the November 16, 2023 version of the Daily Nexus.